Through much of history our relationship with the earth has been plagued by ambivalence―we not only enjoy and appreciate the forces and manifestations of nature, we seek to plunder, alter, and control them. Here Paul Shepard uncovers the cultural roots of our ecological crisis and proposes ways to repair broken bonds with the earth, our past, and nature. Ultimately encouraging, he notes, "There is a secret person undamaged in every individual. We have not lost, and cannot lose, the genuine impulse."
Does any species other than the human befoul its nest, destroy the habitat on which it depends? Strangely, yes; such shortsightedness happens in the natural world all the time. But no species does so with as much conscious awareness, a matter that fascinated the philosopher Paul Shepard. In Nature and Madness he examines the human animal in relation to the natural environment, showing the kinds of psychic disjunctions and troubles that have developed over the generations that humans have been seeking to distance themselves from the world. Shepard locates the source of much of those troubles in the invention of agriculture, an act that gave humans the false idea that nature can be controlled and micromanaged in every detail--an idea that has found modern fruit in such things as dam-building and genetic engineering. Environmental destruction, writes Shepard, is a "mutilation of personal maturity," a failure of emotional development; continuing the metaphor, he adds that "the only society more frightful than one run by children ... might be one run by childish adults." Shepard calls on his readers to establish a meaningful, mature connection with the earth, to cultivate a sense of stewardship and responsibility. It is a welcome call.
Contents: Preface 1. Introduction 2. The Domesticators 3. The Desert Fathers 4. The Puritans 5. The Mechanists 6. The Dance of Neoteny and Ontogeny